True North


You can lose your life in Norway — the life you might decide to leave behind for a new one here in true north.

In Norway Ruth and I drink straight from the rivers and lakes. Above treeline, as we hike endless slopes of heather, lichen and rock, Willow Ptarmigans dance at our feet and issue the craziest song north of the Equator. Meadow Pipits flutter at our heads like daydreams. And the plaintive calls of Golden Plovers soften the crusty slopes.

Here there is no night — only a red glow in the sky and a gentle orange bathing the big land, a sunset that lingers a few hours until it becomes sunrise. And now, after nearly a week in central Norway hiking with our dear friends Pelle and Lina, Ruth and I are on a 12-hour train trip even farther toward the light — and life above the Arctic Circle.

The scale and beauty here I cannot describe — at least not yet, not in any quick blog post. But here are a few photos. As you’ll see, I’m still largely in “critter mode.” Below you’ll find Siberian Jay, what is probably Scarce Copper (Lycaena vigaureae), Sedge Darner (Aeshna juncea), Chaffinch, and some of the landscape. (I do like this new Panasonic DMC-ZS40 point-and-shoot as a travel camera.)

More landscape is coming, including the drama of the Norwegian coast, but perhaps not until we get back online at the end of the month.







Northbound in Sweden


How I have admired Sweden from afar: Carl Linnaeus. The practical Socialism. The Swedes named Lindström, Holström, Zetterberg and others who have helped my Detroit Red Wings win ice hockey’s Stanley Cup.

I am afar no more. Now I love Sweden from within. Ruth and I are on train north toward a boreal palace of conifers, bogs and more friends. We have just left the boundless kindness of Bitte and Kotten and their small farm in southern Sweden. Before departing, we helped them bring in (mostly by pitchfork and sweat) three months of hay for the sheep. That’s Bitte behind me.

We’re finding time to chase nature here. Rather than hauling all my camera gear (big lenses), I’m packing a Panasonic 30x point-and-shoot. Until I blog rhapsodically about this camera, allow me to call it a miracle in my pocket. And until flashier wildlife forthcoming, here’s a Thrush Nightingale shot hand-held at 30x. You can see the Nightingale’s meal of a sow bug and a bee (or bee mimic).  Oh, by the way, Air France found my luggage.



Among Dead Insects (Again)


Although they’ve been dead for more than two centuries, there is life in these dragonflies. The life of a legendary biologist here in Copenhagen.

I’m working in the Zoologisk Museum at Kobenhavns Universitet with holotype specimens from the Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius. It’s a bit like working with the specimens of Carl Linnaeus.

Mostly I came for one specimen in particular — she’s there at the lower left: Pantala flavescens (Wandering Glider), the most cosmopolitan insect on Earth (and in large part the subject of a book I’m writing). This is the very specimen, collected in India, that Fabricius used to name and describe this species to science more than two centuries ago. Or so we think.  There’s a mystery here to solve.

I’d tell you more but Air France has lost my baggage — all my backpacking gear — putting the rest of this trip with Ruth (hiking in Norway) in jeopardy.




A thunderstorm trashed the Independence Day party here in Montpelier yesterday. After cancelling the parade, the city shot some fireworks at 7 PM or so. Underwhelming is how I’d describe it – sort of like a drive-in movie at noon or stargazing at dusk. So here, from nature, is an alternative fireworks display from places I’ve been across the continent. Explosive stuff. Happy Fourth!


A Farewell to June

ORCHIDS, A BUTTERFLY AND THE GLOW at dawn on a northern lake. With these few random images, I bid farewell to June – the month of vernal pleasures, when the north is at its most sensuous. Below you’ll find sunrise at Douglas Lake in Michigan, Silvery Checkerspot in northern Wisconsin, Twinflower in northern Michigan, Arethusa orchid at a bog in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and a Showy Lady’s Slipper this morning at Bear Swamp in Wolcott, Vermont.

A Dragonfly and a Truck

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Although there are far more important matters in life to celebrate, and even as the extraction and burning of fossil fuels bring so much privilege, enjoyment and misery to the world, my 2004 Toyota Tacoma traveled its 200,000th mile in Maine, NY, yesterday during the Northeast regional gathering of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas. We have gone far together, this truck and me.

So as you endure the obligatory images of a guy, his truck and an odometer, at least you might enjoy a festive Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) from Greenwood Park in Broome County, NY, as part of the celebration. (And no worries about that check-engine light.)




Upland Sandpipers Doing It

Upland Sandpipers / © Rollin Tebbetts

Upland Sandpipers / © Rollin Tebbetts

FEEL GOOD about these copulating Upland Sandpipers not only because this photo offers us a cheap thrill. Feel good any time this threatened grassland bird reproduces. These are birds in trouble. During the past century, Upland Sandpiper numbers have fallen in alarming proportions.

Once common in the North American Plains and western Arctic, this lanky shorebird flew into a double whammy. First, hunters shot Upland Sandpipers, for their tender meat, by the hundreds or thousands per day, shipping them east by the railcar load. Once the shooting stopped (owing to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918), the habitat destruction began. Native grasslands fell to the plow and became croplands instead. You won’t find Upland Sandpipers doing it in corn fields.

Rare is a shorebird not of the shoreline. “Pinheads,” as we affectionately call them, are exclusively birds of dry, open grasslands. This photos came from a site in Connecticut a few years ago. I’ve been meaning to post it ever since it sent me into the upper echelons of photographic jealousy. The photographer who did so is Rollin Tebbetts, formerly of Cabot, Vermont (well, you can take Rollin out of Cabot but you’ll never take the Cabot out of Rollin). At some point I’ll devote an entire gallery to Rollin’s bird photography. You won’t be disappointed.

In the meantime, my pals (and employers) at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) have major projects in the works on behalf of Upland Sandpipers and grassland bird conservation in general across the hemisphere. Big things are coming from VCE on grasslands. So if you don’t yet support this amazing group of biologists, please consider doing so.

Next up for me: Dragonflies in New York.


DSA Update No. 5: Carnage & Closure


A Gomphus fraternus (Midland Clubtail) eats a Baskettail (Epitheca sp.) / © Bryan Pfeiffer

HERE’S A PARTING SHOT from the 2014 Dragonfly Society of the America’s annual meeting in Wisconsin: a Gomphus fraternus (Midland Clubtail) eating an Epitheca (baskettail) species, most likely E. spinigera, Spiny Baskettail, along the Wisconsin River near Woodruff. Nothing odd here, just dragonflies being dragonflies: flying around, having sex, and killing things, including one another.

We wrapped up our meeting with a bonus excursion to peatlands and rivers in northeastern Wisconsin. To our hosts for this gathering – Ken Tennessen, Bob Dubois, Denny Johnson, Bill Smith, Ryan Chrouser and others I’m sorry to have omitted – I offer the most sincere gratitude. I’ll post a final species list once Bob compiles it. Read other DSA meeting updates here.

Next for me is the 2014 Northeast regional meeting of the DSA in Binghamton, NY. On my way there I stopped at a spectacular bog in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where I encountered two prized northern butterflies: Boloria eunomia (Bog Fritillary), which I have sought (unsuccessfully) in Vermont for more than a decade, and Boloria frigga (Frigga Fritillary). Here’s the Bog Frit, evidence that in butterflies beauty lies on both sides of the wings.

More on that bog, which featured more deer flies than I’ve ever encountered in one place, later. Onward!


Bog Fritillary (Boloria eunomia) / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Bog Fritillary (Boloria eunomia) / © Bryan Pfeiffer


Bog Fritillary (Boloria eunomia) / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Bog Fritillary (Boloria eunomia) / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Got Milkweed?


IN THE WAKE OF THEIR SHOCKING POPULATION PLUNGE, Monarchs are now drifting back into the Midwest and Northeast. Here’s one I encountered in northern Wisconsin on Tuesday during a break from chasing dragonflies. She’s nectaring on hawkweed. Hope on four wings.

A perfect storm of threats now bears down on America’s favorite insect. New research published in the Journal of Animal Ecology confirms what we know: it’s milkweed, stupid. No milkweed, no Monarchs. And the march of industrial agriculture is killing off milkweed, particularly here in the Midwest.

But Monarchs don’t decline by vanishing host plants alone. Degradation of wintering sites in Mexico, drought in the southern US, and global warming have joined a conspiracy against this insect. Here’s the bad news from last winter.

You’re part of the solution. So plant milkweed, lots of it. Learn more (and find all your Monarch conservation needs) at Monarch WatchHere’s the Monarch page from the Xerces Society. I’m a Xerces member; please consider joining this vital invertebrate conservation group.




A Wisconsin Badger


WHILE CHASING DRAGONFLIES HERE IN WISCONSIN, I found the state animal watching me from its newly dug burrow in Flambeau River State Forest. It neither growled nor flashed its teeth. (Can’t have everything.) One photo, then it was gone, into the coolness on a hot day.

A badger in Wisconsin. Go figure. Now to find a wolverine in Michigan, a grizzly in California, a panther in Florida ….



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